Few drivers can say they have had the support of JR Nation behind them or that they won a Sprint Cup race while driving on a part-time basis for an underfunded team. Fortunately for Brad Keselowski, he can say both.
In just a few short seasons, Keselowski has gone from a virtual unknown to the face of JR Motorsports. Now preparing for his first full season behind the wheel for Penske Racing, Keselowski is poised to put the #12 back in victory lane, a place it hasn't been since the 2008 Daytona 500.
Will Keselowski be able to capitalize on his past success in 2010? That's anyone's guess. Looking at his past stats, it's easy to see Keselowski has the potential to make it as a driver in NASCAR's top series. In 104 Busch/Nationwide career starts, Keselowski has 53 top-10 finishes and six wins, and in just 17 Sprint Cup starts has 4 top-10 finishes and one win.
Most drivers would be ecstatic over those stats and the fan base that Keselowski has behind him each and every weekend. The support of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick didn't hurt Keselowski's chances of success in the past either, but in 2010 Brad's the small fish in the big pond that is Penske Racing.
Many fans believe that 2010 will be his year to win the Nationwide Series championship, as reigning champ Kyle Busch has decided not to run the full season and instead focus on his Cup program. Keselowski's only real competition comes from Carl Edwards, who will also be competing full time in both series.
The problem with this prediction is that Keselowski won't have the same equipment, sponsorship or team as he has had in the past. That could hurt his chances, at least in the short term. You can't expect the team to gel overnight or come out of the gate strong. It happens for some, but most take a while to adjust to a new situation.
Penske Racing is a wonderful organization that has fielded great teams in the past, but don't forget Penske is fairly new to the Nationwide Series. The team's first full-time Nationwide season came in 2009 with Rookie of the Year Justin Allgaier piloting the #12 Verizon Dodge. Also the new COT for the Nationwide Series might throw the team for a loop once it's put into use later in the season.
In the Sprint Cup Series, Keselowski will be playing second fiddle to Kurt Busch, who is coming off his best season since 2004 after finishing forth in the 2009 Chase for the Championship behind Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. The good news for Keselowski is that Busch will also be dealing with a new crew chief as Steve Addington, former crew chief to Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing, joined the team in the offseason.
2010 is the test for Keselowski. Forget everything you know about his career up to this point. It's a whole different ball game, but the stakes are just as high.
At the end of the season, will it come down to Edwards and Keselowski fighting it out for the Nationwide championship, or will one of the Nationwide regulars surprise us all and walk away with the trophy at Homestead? Will he be able to prove himself worthy of a full-time Cup ride or will his 2009 win at Talladega be considered a fluke?
You tell me.
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Photo courtesy of NASCARMedia
Article republished with permission from the author: Also posted on the Penske Racing Examiner